Sunday, November 16, 2008


Standing four-armed Avalokiteshvara,
the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion,
ca. 9th century;
Peninsular or Shrivijaya styleThailand;

The early styles of the important but enigmatic kingdom of Shrivijaya, whose main capital may have been on the island of Sumatra but which ruled over a much larger area, continue to defy precise categorization. Shrivijaya and its eighth- and ninth-century rulers, the Shailendra dynasty, are known to us through inscriptions, but the history of this empire remains to be written. Their art seems to owe some stylistic allegiance to India, as well as to earlier Southeast Asian styles, and it may have influenced the sculpture of southern Thailand and even that of the province of Yunnan in China. That Shrivijaya was a very important political unit within Southeast Asia is clear, but the reason for its importance has not been clarified.
The sculptural styles of Shrivijaya are closely allied with those of peninsular Thailand, and it is often difficult to distinguish the origins of a work such as this piece, which is purported to have been found in Thailand.
The sculpture shows the deity standing in a graceful contrapposto. He is dressed in a long skirt fastened below the waist by a jeweled clasp. A girdle of ribbons is worn around the hips with some ends hanging down the thighs. A sash is draped diagonally across the chest, and a three-lobed tiara, earring, and a necklace form the orthodox complement of jewelry for the period. Avalokiteshvara wears a high chignon composed of individual locks of hair, with the ends resting on his shoulders. Unusually large for the period and type, the sculpture is enlivened by gently swelling volumes and fine detailing.

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